Quotes from better writers
Quotes from better writers
“Why won’t the saints look at us?”
“Even saints need a break sometimes, Honey.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Yeah. It is. But try a long walk. They’re saints. They’ll be back.”
“I hope so. I’m not sure I would.”
“Me, neither. There’s always a first time, I suppose. Try not to think about that. ….
That path through the woods to the lake is your best shot. You’d better take your time.”
–From Aug. 2016, revised
Look, I’m not getting much sleep lately,
so chalk this up to grumpiness, if you want.
Or the back spasms…
And I’m no prude, believe me.
But I am a man who’s old, so most
of you would’t notice me on the street.
I’m a tad bitter about that, you might say,
but have learned what’s important.
Maybe, you could just listen.
I get it: Sex sells,
fantasy sex sells cars and everything else..
All those selfies of you on FB, Instagram,
You posed coyly just to show your good side,
your amazing boobs or butt, the come-hither look.
(And yes, I notice. ) Continue reading “Dear Ladies”
Time… a deep river with a fast current,
the past always upstream.
You can try to go back,
try to swim against the flow,
but it’s no use. The current is too strong.
Oh, you might taste a memory,
But are soon worn out, and,
forced to tend to immediate problems.
Eventually just let the water
carry you along. It’s much easier.
There are shouts and cries of others.
The banks are near and sharp.
The past is out of sight and
mist hides everything ahead and behind.
The water is turbulent and dark.
You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re
right on them.
Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.
Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.
Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.
But always the flow pushes ever down,
through unseen dangers, into the future.
Living in the past leads only to regrets.
Living in the future leads to worry.
Living must be embraced in the now.
The meadowlarks have returned, singing.
I may not be able to leap as high as before,
Nor run as far, or as fast….
I’ve been away for eye surgery (all better now) and have begun working on new pieces, planning the next book and generally resuming my plan to go exploring for the next 60 years or so. Republishing this one from last year because it taps something that’s still true.
Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”
Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.
So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.
Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.
It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂
That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”
Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course,
whether they knew it or not.
And for the one or two who
didn’t, but should have).
I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,
Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
A new day rises for you, daughter,
Pushing the darkness and the mists of childhood away.
Many have stood on this same shore, you know, but
This hour is wholly fresh, is yours entire,
Awesome and terrifying.
Thrilling. Dangerous. Engaging.
“Am I up to it?” You wonder…
But, I’ll let you in on a secret:
Continue reading “Letter To A Young Friend”
When we grow skeptical of the comfortable
And slip under the velvet ropes of fear
sliding out over darker waters,
But still afraid, that’s when we grow.
Three times three times three,
Nine times nine times nine,
These are the inexorable multipliers of change.
There is no way to connect the dots looking ahead.
We can only connect them by looking back
At our footsteps in the shifting sands.
Our timid selves, still digging their toes in the sand and calling to us,
Seem safe, but choosing safety only is always a kind of death.
But…. It looks so much better there on shore.
But those who stay on the shore will never know the thrill,
Out on the deep waters where there is no bottom,
Where we realize that we’re not sinking, even though
We cannot yet see a visible means of support.
We all have themes we revisit over and over as writers. This is one of mine.
The signs are all around me,
The storm is raging still.
The wind brings sounds of battle,
From that far distant hill.
I thought this all was over,
I thought my race was run.
But just as I was resting,
My peaceful life’s undone.
Now one final trial:
My guts recoil in fear.
He’s coming soon, despite me,
I feel him drawing near.
Comes weary resignation,
And anger pushing blood,
Determined to leave honor,
Where once foul evil stood.
Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.
It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.
Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.
I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!
If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )
Who knows when fear arrives for us…
Perhaps the first is in the egg’s big moment,
When she, plump and frisky and motivated,
Feels the urgent “hey, baby, open up!” of a thousand horny
Sperm poking and stroking all sides of her
Like desperate sales clerks
After three slow months
And she’s the one customer with cash.
My first remembered brush with darkness
Was a nameless thing, because I could not yet form words.
I left my family in the living room and wandered around the corner.
I remember seeing the half-dark kitchen,
All shadows of familiar things turned strange In the gloom.
And toddled onward, lurching over to a corner.
Who knows what I was looking for.
I saw a mark on the linoleum
(I think my creepy brother had told me it was a bug, earlier, and I
was somehow drawn back to it)
There it was, but in the gloom, alone,
It seemed alive and growing, reaching for me.
I froze. And screamed. And fled.
I think that was the first time I’d felt totally alone,
Separate. Safety was gone, and that spot
Was everything that aloneness meant.
The bottom dropped out of my world
And sheer panic made my feet move,
Back toward the light, my parents
Sure something malevolent was following.
I remember hysterics—mine;
Unable to talk yet, I could only babble desperate sounds,
Trying to name a
Terror that no one could understand.
My father took my hand and let me stand in the door
While he turned on the kitchen light
Beckoned me over, and asked what I’d seen.
He was probably expecting a rat.
In the light, the terror, the prehensile primal fear
That had wrapped a tentacle around my chest
Uncoiled. Bit by bit.
It was just a bug-shaped stain on the floor.
I remember approaching it slowly,
Touching it with my toe.
“Go ahead, touch it with your finger,” he said, mildly
Ignoring my brother’s laughter from the other room
The monster shrank from the light, shriveled
And went back into nothing.
A remnant of a splotch of something dropped long ago.
But to this day, I believe that evil is real and
That it cannot
Live for long in the light.
My own fears make me their slave
My biggest shackle is the fear of letting go of my fears—and of not knowing what comes next.
Fear of the unknown. I choose this, not someone else.
I must name them, first. To know the fears. Their source.
Naming is owning. Owning is freedom.
Freedom with humility. Humility because fears always come back.
We are always vulnerable.
And fears live behind walls. Fears drive us to create walls. For them.
Walls make fears stronger. A spiral to utter failure.
Fear that. Not the unknown.
Fears make me their slave.
Humility and courage breaks the shackles
So I, we, can face whatever comes, every day.
It is never finished.
Stolen from Post Secret.
I don’t know for sure, but I think the next few decades are going to be hard on our children and grandchildren. They’re going to have to learn how to be tough, tough people. They will be tested more than we have, and I’m afraid we haven’t prepared them. The seas will rise, conflicts will grow and spread, and refugees will flood out away from it. Worse than now (I hope I’m wrong).
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
– Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum.
Every year it happens.
We’re awash in forced romance, urged to buy cards and chocolates
For the one we should be doing this for every day.
Never mind, we say again. It’s not for us.
After 47 years together we look at each other
And shake our heads, like we do every year.
We made a pact, decades ago, to ignore this phony “holiday.”
Instead, we tend to go quiet as we remember what it really
Took to be able to still look at one another with
Respect and deep affection and a simple gratitude that
It wasn’t any harder than it was.
We feel like those who’ve been through combat do,
Stripped of all illusions and gauzy sentiments.
We’ve survived the testing of souls, when so many haven’t,
And still treasure a deep, seasoned, clear-eyed love.
How hard it was…
“For better or worse,” and there was plenty of “worse”.
We don’t have any secret solution,
Just a fundamental comfort in still being able to look
Across the room at the other and say
“At least she’s not like that friend of hers from college,
The one I almost ended up with, the one that exuded
Sex from every pore. Who danced naked at a concert once and became a Scientologist
And took too many tabs of LSD. Who, after three husbands
And two women partners, is living alone with her ghosts in a one-bedroom
Mobile home on a scrubby street in California,
Just in those trees, over there, behind the tire store,
Feeding her 7 cats and talking to Jim Morrison and a
Retired blackjack dealer two doors down.
That’s not very romantic, but after all this time,
After all the things life throws at you,
It’s something to still be able to look across the room
And say “Yes. This has been good.”
Sometimes there’s nothing to go on but hope.
No proof, no guarantees. No winning lottery ticket. No rescue in the nick of time. No heroes to fix everything in a perfect 42-minute format, just after the last commercial.
Just hope. Just the kind of desperate courage that comes from nothing left to lose.
Maybe it’s the days in late winter when it begins to feel like nothing is going to thaw. Something quickens despite all the evidence, Despite all the weight of cold experience. Something feels the long rhythms, Something stirs in the depths of cold nights. Something that has been asleep, but shivers awake, when the moment is right.
Hope. That’s all there is. That’s all there’s ever been. Foolish, delusional, ridiculous, irrational. Just hope. Something no one can steal. When everything else is stripped away, When everything is gone, and you don’t even have a psychic quarter left to make a phone call (and there aren’t even any pay phones left, anyway.)
But there’s something…. something down there.
Do you feel it, too?
Maybe. Just maybe.
Jib sweeps the horizon, wake’s a long bubbling flow,
Storms uncounted I’ve weathered, bleak terrors I’ve known.
My passage, I see, leaves no trace at all.
What good is’t to linger, then the words: “Let it go.”
The ship sluices onward, destination unknown,
Taut cables weave ’round me, they sing, snap and moan,
Mast bends, prow plunges, new gusts arrive,
The water’s hiss climbs, the sea knows her own.
Through the darkness she takes me, my eyes crusted blind,
Brine’s coated me, it seems, for three times out of mind.
I pray for the sight of rare stars thru mist,
And dream fitfully of old friends left behind.
Each dawn brings the thought, despite what is past,
We’ll find calm water and fair shore at long last.
Still, my body is one with the ship ‘neath my hand,
Both battered and worn, we’ve done what was asked.
Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.
Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.
Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length
Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.
Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in song.
I’m still not sure how I got here,
I would really like to know how I got here.
It feels as though all of my life so far,
Has just been practice for ….what comes next.
I want things to be harder,
I want to push beyond what I thought was possible.
I want to be astonished, over and over.
I want to feel the aches and pains and get mad,
And ignore them like the bastards they are.
I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but no longer
Give two fucks in a velvet bag about that.
What happens next needs to be a mystery,
A surprise. I like surprises.
It might be a heart attack, I suppose,
But that’s really not a surprise.. more a cliche, really.
I just hope I’ll find a few things I didn’t know,
Somethings, really, each more wonderful, elegant, sublime,
Than the last.
What more to life could there be?
Well, maybe one thing: I hope some lovely dark beauty
Young enough to be my granddaughter looks twice and thinks,
I’ll take a piece of that!
And I’ll still want to oblige.
One of the best talks I’ve seen.
An old printer has sat in the dark
In my oldest’s neglected closet
For seven years,
Barely usable for a year
Before it was replaced.
$400 was the cost. I remember things like that,
Which tells you something…
Mainly that my parents survived
The Great Depression and WWII,
And it was “waste not, want not,”
Every damned day.
If I were to throw that printer out,
It would mean admitting that I spent
I can hear the disapproval even now.
Expensive mistakes have taught even me, finally.
A printer isn’t the worst of it, as much as
Falling hard for the wrong person,
(And who hasn’t done that?);
Or falling for the right person at the wrong time,
Or failing to see moments of joy inside pain;
Or not learning that true courage means acting despite great fear.
Or living too much on the surface of things;
And choosing blindness to the gift that is each day;
Or letting life make me ever smaller inside,
Instead of choosing the wisdom of wide arms,
Embracing the passing parade while it lasts.
The printer in the closet needs to go,
Because even expensive mistakes
Must be forgiven.
How difficult this would be, especially in our consumerist culture that fetishisizes instant gratification:
1. Accept everything just the way it is
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must
preserve your honour.
21. Never stray from the Way.
― Miyamoto Musshi
This was going to be just an anniversary rerun, happily marking one year today since my stroke. And I apologize for the need to make this a little darker than I’d intended. But I think you’ll see why.
I’m doing well, happier than ever, tapping deeper into the craft I love, and enjoying new friends —you— as never before. I’m living much more healthily, have lost 23-pounds on the way to 35 or more, and the satisfactions of this blog alone has reduced stress. I want to be around for a while, tasting the sweetness and bitterness of life in equal measure. I’ve never felt so alive. And so I thought to put up a simple marker to a very interesting and rewarding year.
But the Universe has a perverted sense of humor. Within the week, other news reminded us that there is bad with the good, and that what builds us up can tear us down, too. A meeting with a surgeon today told us what comes next for her.
Cancer. Again. Breast. Third time. Fourth diagnosis overall. The good part, if there is a good part, is that they caught it so early that it’s still at Stage Zero. Some more consultations are to come, of course. And ultimately, a major surgery. But, no chemo this time. We must be content with such small gratitude as this. But it is enough.
It seems that one can have one of two reactions to something like this. We can feel the close brush of the thing we will all eventually face, and be driven inward, fearful. Or, we can realize that Fate comes at a time of her own choosing, and none of us knows the day or the hour. The choice is always between fear and shriveling down, or doing what must be done in spite of the fear.
Life will break you if you let it.
April 24, 2014 ….
On Thursday morning, I woke up feeling funny, my right side partially paralyzed. After waiting far too long, I went to the ER and learned that sometime overnight a tiny blood vessel near the center of my brain on the left side, about the level of my eyes and near the hypothalamus, had been blocked by something. The loss of blood to a tiny, tiny area deep in my brain has made things I took for granted now difficult.
I went to bed feeling normal, woke up a stroke victim.
But, it’s turned out as well as could be expected. I’m home, the symptoms are fading away, and the docs think I should recover completely. I was extremely lucky.
It talking with someone else today I was reminded of this song by Johnny Cash, on the last album he recorded “The Man Comes Around.” The phrase– “whirlwind in the thorn tree –in it sums up the last couple of days, how events can take over and we’re whipped around and wounded, feeling out of control.
One day you’re thinking about ordinary things,
Groceries, taxes, walking the dog, the upcoming weekend,
Problems a friend is having, plans to celebrate a graduation,
Finances, cleaning out the garage,
And all the plans… trips we wanted to take,
Places to finally see, places we put off seeing
Until the kids were launched, happy, safe.
Then we hear thunder over the horizon,
Like the pounding of many hooves,
And the sky darkens, the air grows cold, the sun loses all warmth.
The pounding, the thunder, the messengers’ announcement
Comes up through your feet, sinks into your bones, and you know what it is.
Fear grips your heart, you clutch each other in silent recognition.
Again. Again. Not again.
Plans change in the instant, one one phone call,
Plans are such feeble things, rattled so easily
And so effortlessly by the sound of thunder,
Thudding hooves coming this way, and there is no escape.
Let me hold you tight, whisper in your ear the words I dreaded
I’d say again: “I’ve got you. I’m here. We have to saddle up again. The thunder is coming.
The hurricane will be upon us soon. There isn’t much time.”
Twitter sent this to me this morning, and it struck me that the same could be said of life in 2015. We are not getting better at this task of being fully human, are we?
We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love;
William Butler Yeats (/ˈjeɪts/; 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923.
I posted this in June, during recovery. I apologize for the repeat, but this is one of two things I’m adding today in honor of the New Year. I don’t usually wish a Happy New Year, since nothing really is predictable. But I do hope that we all get some wishes answered, and pray you all wish well.
When I was younger, I desperately wanted to see my future, to know what was to be. In my arrogance, I thought I knew everything, and as it turns out, I know next to nothing. Less than nothing sometimes. My ignorance grows with age.
Now, looking back at what things litter the path of my personal journey, the triumphs and the broken bodies, I’m thankful that I didn’t know what was to come. Even the good things, but most certainly the bad. It would have been too much. It would have destroyed me, and, I suspect, it would destroy most of us.
I don’t know much, but think this much is true. We’re here to get through it somehow, and to learn what we can, but only one day at a time. Or, sometimes, just one hour at a time. That, and it’s important to learn how to be kind.
More knowing would fill us with grief and fear and tear us apart. We just aren’t strong enough to handle it.
Let the young believe that they know everything, though. We need their optimism and energy. Life will teach them too. It always does. But we should not wish to see the future. We should wish to live each day to the hilt, we should hope we have the courage to face what comes, and the future will take care of itself.
From a scene in “The Passenger”, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Jack Nicholson as reporter named Locke:
by Emily Dickinson
Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea –
Past the houses – past the headlands –
Into deep Eternity!
Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land.
I usually spend some prep time reading– books, poems, other bloggers, quotes — before writing. The quote at the bottom is one that hit me today as I was looking for something to help a young friend find the courage to plunge ahead, not knowing how things will turn out. We just move forward, into the mist that is the future, and if we’re lucky, we learn to embrace the unknown with love.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.—Steve Jobs
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
—But it’s nicer here…
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doings things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
—But we have to sleep sometime…
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
WHEN Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs, he forgot the copperheads and the assassin … in the dust, in the cool tombs.
And Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men and Wall Street, cash and collateral turned ashes … in the dust, in the cool tombs.
Pocahontas’ body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw in November or a pawpaw in May, did she wonder? does she remember?… in the dust, in the cool tombs?
Take any streetful of people buying clothes and groceries, cheering a hero or throwing confetti and blowing tin horns … tell me if the lovers are losers … tell me if any get more than the lovers … in the dust … in the cool tombs.
A homeless man gets a little help, a little touch of kindness. A little less bleakness.
I don’t want much:
I want to be happy.
I want to live forever.
I want to face no consequences. Ever.
That’s not much, is it?
I want to never live through another hot, humid day. Or a cold one.
I want it to rain when I want,
And be sunny and mild the rest of the time.
I want to chase Spring around the planet, skip
August, January, February and half of March.
I want a 5-series Beamer. Midnight blue. Just for Tuesdays.
The other days I’d like a Ferrari to drive down to my yacht.
Where I’d make love until dinner.
And then after.
I want to be 35 again, knowing what I know now.
(Not my 20s again. God, no. Everyone’s an idiot in their 20s.
No offense intended. But it’s true.)
I want to stop realizing that each day might be my last.
That one’s new. That’s the one that’s true. That’s the one I hate.
The other things are lies I tell myself.
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
I need an editor. Everyone needs an editor. A good editor.
NOTE: I am an official fossil. Can’t help that. At least I haven’t shouted “you kids get off my lawn” in… forever. But this rant will sound like I have, I suppose.
This is like a notice on an adult site, though. Don’t read on unless you’re over the age of consent.
I learned the craft of writing at the knees of editors who were hard nosed, but not hard-hearted. They demanded the best, until that’s what I could give them. I have had stories (on paper; told you I was old) balled up and thrown at my head. One quite literally was hummed from across the newsroom and stuck in my ear. That guy had one hell of an arm! Can you imagine such a thing these days? He’d be sent to a re-education camp now, probably. Or go through a shaming ritual on Twitter. (I shed a nostalgic tear for the good old days. 🙂 )
I get the feeling that most people go through school and early professional life not being put through the grinder like that. That’s a damned shame, frankly. It wasn’t fun at the time, but I grew a thick skin and higher expectations. Those editors who reacted with anger to poorly written stories got angry because they cared. Deeply cared about the words, about the story, about the truth of things. I learned.
Before anyone leaps to the defense of the beginners and seekers who are blogging, allow me to insert a disclaimer: I’m not thinking of those who are here because they are looking to unburden themselves of something heavy and awful. I’ve read a lot of these writers with awe, many of whom have enormous talent, latent or otherwise. And the cries from their souls would tear a hole in Heaven and make the angels weep. They just need to be heard, and get a helping hand. But I argue that there’s a goal more lofty than just feeling good. It’s being good.
They can be very, very good if they keep at it and refuse to accept easy answers. Along the way, they will probably face doubts and pain every single day. It doesn’t really get pain-free; you just learn to keep going. Some have actual physical pain and they keep going. If they can, we can.
The struggles writers go through are pure raw material that, properly crafted, can be spun into gold. There are only two ways to do that: write, incessantly, and seek out a good editor to keep you honest and moving toward higher ground like you’re escaping Noah’s flood.
It’s acquiring the craft I’m talking about, and do not claim I have achieved any 20th degree black belt, either. I haven’t. I’ve been working at this for nearly 50 years and I look at a lot of what I write now with disgust. I’ve just learned to accept that as a cost of doing business, a challenge, and throw the crap back in the hopper and work it like an eel wrangler hoping to turn those wriggly bastards into rope.
So, back to the premise of the rant.
If I want to call myself a writer, in the professional sense, I cannot thrive or grow without a good editor. Even someone who’s main goal is to work the knots out of their lives can use simple feedback on technique, if they’ll listen. “Do more of this, less of that. That part doesn’t make sense to me. What if you moved this phrase up there? Poor spelling hurts readership, and muddies your story. Buy a dictionary. Buy a thesaurus. Buy Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style.’ ” This helps you cultivate that little voice in your head that learns to stand off to the side, the objective observer, the voice that is both friend and judge.
A good editor is not your best friend who tells you she loves everything and nods sympathetically at everything you say. She’s the kind of best friend who will call you on your bullshit and help you find a better way. This person will call crap what it is, and you will listen if you give a damn and if you want to be any good. It takes enormous hubris to sit down at a keyboard and write, and enormous humility to be any good at it. Nobody grows if all they hear are soothing words. You need to seek out honest critics and humble yourself. And then write, write, write.
That is, we will if we want to be any good. If we want to be more than good. If we want to be the best we can possibly be.
It isn’t fun, and isn’t supposed to be.
The sayings about this are plentiful. I told someone when I started on the book that it was easy. I just locked myself in a cabin for four days (true), smashed myself in the face with the laptop (not literally) until I lost some teeth and the words started to come. I came down off the mountain and worked for a couple of months, and then had a good friend who used to edit a magazine read it. She really let me have it, the good and the bad. She’s a pro. I listened. I have rewritten it all twice since then, and will probably have to do it more.
A good editor is your best mentor, and the callouses you grow on your fragile ego will let you push on through the hard times when the words dry up. A good editor will push you on when you want to lie down and settle for second-best. A good editor isn’t a bully, but a coach, a friend, an AA sponsor, the hand wielding a whip when you need it most — which is usually when you think you don’t.
Such a person is a pearl of great price—hard to find. In a pinch, however, find writers you KNOW are loads better than you and read, read, read.
Like your life depended on it.
Because it does.
I’m really not feeling morbid, but the well-examined life always includes thoughts of the end that comes to all, that final journey into the “undiscovered country.” My thought is always that it’s better to stare everything in the face than to be afraid and pretend. It just doesn’t change some things. Turns out we humans have been thinking about this for a long time. I also believe that we think about death, but then grab a bottle of wine, a pretty girl, and make love without care or regret.
From an unknown Athenian.
c. 305 BC / Athens
When you’re moved to find out who you are,
study the graves you encounter as you pass by.
Inside rest the bones and weightless dust
of men once kings and tyrants, wise men, and those
who took pride in their noble birth or wealth,
their fame, or their beautiful bodies.
Yet what good was any of that against time?
All mortals come to know Hades in the end.
Look toward these to know who you are.
This is so well said, but the imagery of the failure pill was what grabbed me.
Take the pill of failure upon your tongue, roll it around until the flavor fills your mouth and penetrates your senses and mind, but never, ever swallow it whole. Let the taste flow through your consciousness, store the memory for days to come and spit it out when you’ve taken what you need.
Never let failure enter your system fully or it will be with you forever. Let the sensation return when you need it most, when the days grow dark and cold, and when you feel the icy, numbing touch of personal crisis around your throat. Use your failure to fuel your hunger for success. Let it be your companion all of your days, but refuse to let it take root in your center, lest it consume you.
And yes, I carry luggage for a living – and…
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I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,
I don’t know if someone amazing will cross my path,
Or the proverbial bus takes me out, instead.
There are no guarantees; life is a crazy ride,
A moving surprise. Yet despite the fear of this,
Despite a strong desire to give up and lie down,
I’m beginning, after all these years,
To lean into it more and more,
I feel it in my chest, a bubbling laughter that’s
Finding its way out, and it’s there more and more.
Somehow it means being
Open to amazing people and avoiding buses,
Doing things that used to scare me,
And wondering if you can surprise me
And make me glad we are
Both alive in this place, in this time,
To laugh and feast on life and love forever.
Well, can you? Surprise me?